On Friday, June 2, 2017, the DOJ and City filed a Joint Motion to Clarify Court’s Directive. They were asking the Judge to advise them whether to distribute copies of the City’s draft Report and Action Plan concerning community and public involvement to the amici and “stakeholders” and whether to allow comments before filing it with the Court. Judge Brack’s new Order, Doc. 283, sets a schedule that requires distribution of the draft report by June 12 and “any input in writing to the City no later than June 27, 2017.”
Should Police Oversight Groups See Draft Reports?
An unusual motion filed last Friday in the DOJ’s Section 14141 police reform lawsuit seeks clarification of a Judge’s “Directive Regarding City of Albuquerque’s Report and Action Plan.”
The “Joint Motion” by the City and Department of Justice asks Judge Brack to decide whether the City’s civilian oversight agencies get to see and comment on the City’s latest plans before they are approved by the parties and Monitor and filed with the Court.
The Motion was filed with the approval of the Settlement Agreement’s compliance monitor, Dr. Ginger. The APOA ostensibly takes no position on the issues..
Negotiations between the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque more than three years ago resulted in a overseen by a compliance monitor and federal district judge.
The agreement included a substantial measure of community and citizen involvement, including the continuation of a police oversight agency, the CPOA, and a newly organized 9-member Civilian Police Oversight Board to investigate and report on policy and practice compliance. The agreement and City Ordinances also added a Mental Health Response Advisory Committee and 7 area Citizen Police Councils. The Oversight Board members have persistently complained about being shut out of meaningful reform of policies or practices by the City and its lawyers.
The joint motion filed by the DOJ and City’s lawyers on Friday, June 2, asks for “an order clarifying the Court’s directive that the City file a ‘report and action plan’ addressing certain matters raised during the May 10, 2017, hearing.”
The parties are essentially asking Judge Brack whether he intended to include the Civilian Police Oversight Board, the Mental Health Advisory Board, and the Community Policing Councils in the mandatory but up to now closed-to-the-public discussions (or “review process”) among the parties – the APD, the Police Union, and the DOJ – and Monitor.
The May 10, 2017, presentation of the Monitor’s 5th Report included criticism by some of the community advocacy groups and the Police Oversight Board that they were being ignored and bypassed. Judge Brack ordered the City to file a “written report and action plan” within 30 days about how it would be addressing the lack of citizen and community involvement and participation that has marred the reform process up to now.
That Report would have been due to be filed on June 9. But after hearing the oversite boards’ concerns and at the request of the DOJ, Judge Brack told the City to provide a draft report and action plan “to the Parties within 30 days and file its final report and action plan at 45 days, or June 24, 2017.”
Despite the apparent intention of the Court to include and involve the public and its representatives, Judge Brack said nothing either way about providing the draft report to the oversight, mental health, or community policing boards and members, or about allowing them an opportunity to comment and suggest changes.
The motion concludes by asking:
whether the City should provide its draft report and action plan to the Amici and CASA Stakeholders when it provides the draft to the Parties on or before June 9, 2017, and consider their input in finalizing the report and action plan that it files with the Court on or before June 24, 2017.
Dr. Ginger’s Draft Reports
Similar questions arose a few weeks ago when the Police Oversight Board members were allowed to see, but not comment on, draft copies of the Monitor’s Fifth Compliance Report. Although the preliminary report was distributed to various groups and individuals including the APOA, neither the draft report or the comments on that report have been disclosed to the public.
At that time the CPOA’s Executive Director and Dr. Ginger both cited a paragraph in the Settlement Agreement, paragraph 315, purporting to exclude Monitor Reports and communications among the parties from the definition of “public records:”
315. The Monitor is not a state or local agency or an agent thereof, and accordingly, the records maintained by the Monitor or communications between the Monitor and the Parties shall not be deemed public records subject to public inspection.
While the issue is still apparently not being discussed publicly, pending IPRA requests currently challenge the contention that proposals, comments, and communications among the parties are secret and not public records subject to inspection under the State law.
Allowing the oversight boards and CPCs to participate in the previously closed “review and report” process now would surely open that process to the public and the press, and whether the “parties” and Court can allow that to happen may be the real question the DOJ and City’s Joint Motion for Clarification is asking the Judge to answer.
The American Civil Liberties Union has joined with a journalist, a college professor and an activist to sue the Los Angeles Police Department over what they describe as a “systemic violation” of California’s public records law.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, accused the LAPD of failing to comply with the California Public Records Act by not responding to requests within the time frame mandated by the law or by ignoring inquiries altogether.
The civil complaint documents nearly a dozen examples of such requests, including some that were allegedly made years ago and have yet to be answered.
“More and more, police departments throughout the United States acknowledge the value of transparency — to increase public trust, promote better law enforcement, and facilitate effective oversight,” the lawsuit stated. “The LAPD’s pattern and practice of violating the [state’s records act] and ignoring requests for public information is not only unlawful, but also out of step.”
The suit asks the court to compel the LAPD to follow the law and order the department to track — and report publicly — how it responds to public records inquiries for at least three years.
An LAPD spokesman said the department had no immediate comment Tuesday morning.
Adrienna Wong, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said public records allow residents to evaluate how their law enforcement agencies are performing and look for ways to improve them, and can help improve community trust in police.
“All of that information is really relevant to this public discussion and has real concrete impacts,” she said.
Though commonly used by journalists and advocacy groups such as the ACLU, public information can be requested by anyone under the California Public Records Act.
Once an agency receives a request filed under the Public Records Act, it must respond within 10 days, saying whether it will provide that information. The law allows agencies to make some exceptions if there are “unusual circumstances,” giving them an additional 14 days, at most, to respond.
If an agency determines the information can be released, the law requires it to provide an estimated date and time when that will happen. Once an agency decides records are public, the law states, it must release them “promptly.”
The ACLU filed the lawsuit with three other people: Ali Winston, a journalist whose stories have been published by the Center for Investigative Reporting; Kelly Lytle Hernandez, a UCLA professor known for her work on race, policing and incarceration; and Shawn Nee, a community activist and photographer based in L.A.
The lawsuit cataloged records inquiries made by Winston, Hernandez or Nee that the LAPD failed to respond to by the 10-day or 24day deadline.
Such was the case in early 2014, the lawsuit said, when Winston requested records from the LAPD about facial recognition cameras as well as software the department used to target potential criminals. Three years later, Winston alleged, the department still hasn’t responded.
Times reporters have also experienced lengthy delays after requesting records from the LAPD.
Recently, the LAPD’s Discovery Section — which handles such requests — has sent automatic replies that say the processing time for requests is six to eight weeks “due to limited staffing.”
The ACLU filed its own inquiry in November, asking for information about the oldest records requests the LAPD had yet to fulfill and the department’s policies for handling such requests. On the same day, the lawsuit stated, the LAPD responded via email, confirming only that it had received the inquiry.
As of Wednesday, the lawsuit said, the ACLU had heard nothing more.
A copy of the Complaint is here.
The meeting on April 13, 2017, of the Albuquerque Civilian Police Oversight Board began with a presentation critical of with police and policy reform and the oversight process by Jim Larson. There was also a lengthy discussion about CIRT, or use-of-force cases that are now scheduled to be reviewed by both the CPOB and APD’s Force Review Board.
After another unexplained “Executive Session” and “lunch” the Board returned and heard Sue Brown interject a comment about Dr. Ginger’s Fifth Independent Monitor Report, which is being read by the Oversight Board members who have been ordered not to speak about it.
And Board Chairwoman Joanne Fine described meetings she has attended and announced that there would be a meeting with the parties — APD, APOA, DOJ, and Dr. Ginger — on April 20. She said she was hopeful that the meeting would advance a collaborative effort involving the Police Oversight Board.
But what might be the most significant disclosure came at the very end of the meeting.
In response to Dr. Ring’s question about an increase in the complaint rates, Harness stated that the Oversight Board would be getting even more complaints, due to implementation of a plan resulting from the settlement of the case by the Browder family against former-officer Adam Casaus. The City agreed to put bumper stickers on all police vehicles and to direct all complaints about vehicle accidents to the Oversight Agency.
That, according to Harness, would “inundate” the already seriously backlogged Oversight Board with vehicle accident complaints.
“We’re Not Allowed to Talk About it Now”
The draft copies of the consent monitor’s report, scheduled for presentation in the federal district court on May 10, 2017, have been distributed, but CPOB members and others have been told it’s secret, and they aren’t “allowed to talk about it” until May 2, 2017, when the Monitor Team’s Report is scheduled to be made “public.”
The Police Oversight Board members discussed an April 20 meeting “with the parties” and said they look forward to sharing their views with the public “after May 2nd.” Dr. Sue Brown, head of the oversight group’s Policy and Practice Subcommittee, asked the other Board members to write her with their comments on the Report, but she quickly added that she understood they weren’t allowed to talk about the Report in public.
The Director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, Edward Harness, has apparently already submitted his comments on behalf of the Board to the Monitor’s Team, but those also have not been disclosed to the public.
Harness very recently denied an IPRA request for inspection of the Monitor’s draft report, citing a paragraph in the Settlement Agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Albuquerque that states that such reports and comments on them are not subject to the State Inspection of Public Records Act.